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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Egypt and the Byzantine Empire            335
In the year 297 Diocletian carried out a sweeping financial
reform, simplifying and unifying the whole tax system and
making the requisitions for the annona, hitherto arbitrary and
irregular, a permanent institution. The new method was based
on an assessment by fixed units of productivity, called for the
land iuga (the iugatio) and for human beings and live-stock
capita (the capitatio). Each year the estimated requirements
were fixed by the annual indictio> and each province learned the
amount of its quota from the delegatio, upon the receipt of
which it was the duty of the provincial authorities to raise the "
required amount by an equitable apportionment among the
taxable units. So far as the country districts were concerned
(for, payment being at first chiefly in kind owing to the reduced
value of money, it was upon the rural areas that Diocletian
mainly relied), there was, in essence, but a single basis of taxa-
tion; and in fact the bewildering multiplicity of individual taxes
so characteristic of the Roman period disappears from the
papyri of the Byzantine Age.
Diocletian's intention was, by simplifying the system, to
prevent fraud and secure a juster distribution of the burden;
but the attempt proved a failure. The rich and powerful
possessed opportunities denied to their poorer neighbours of
evading part of their responsibilities. The higher officials were
drawn from their ranks; the lower were too often accessible to
bribery or intimidation. Thus, the better qualified was the
taxpayer, by his wealth, to pay his full quota, the easier was it
for him to avoid doing so; and under the system of collective
responsibility, by which the burden rested ultimately on the
community rather than on the individual, this meant that his
deficit was made good by others. Faced with utter ruin, the
small owner had but one resource: to invoke the protection of
a patron, who in return for the surrender of his land undertook
the responsibility for his taxes. In this way a free owner became
the client, the colonus adscripticius, in effect the serf, of a great